OURAY COUNTY – Authorities are mystified about some of the circumstances surrounding a fatal motorcycle crash on on Tuesday evening, July 15, in which a 59-year-old man lost control of his bike and plummeted over a cliff on Red Mountain Pass at mile marker 89.8.
According to Colorado State Patrol Sergeant Chad Martin, who is investigating the accident, the victim was headed southbound out of Ouray toward Silverton up U.S. 550/ Red Mountain Pass at around 8:20 p.m.
He was traveling at a high rate of speed in a 25 m.p.h. zone along a treacherous stretch of highway locally known as the Ruby Walls, where the highway is etched into a cliffside with a sheer drop-off of hundreds of feet.
While negotiating a sharp right-hand curve just past mile marker 90 near the turnoff to Engineer Pass, the victim started skidding into the northbound opposite lane.
Forensic evidence shows that his rear brake locked and he slid straight off the road, hitting a curve indicator sign before striking an embankment, then tumbling over the cliff and falling 140 feet before coming to a rest underneath the bike.
Martin, a Harley enthusiast who frequently rides over Red Mountain Pass himself when he is off-duty, knows this corner well, and said it is particularly hazardous for motorcycle riders.
“His injuries were pretty severe; he was probably done before he hit the bottom,” Martin said.
There are conflicting reports about what happened next. A family parked at an overlook near the Engineer Pass turn-off either saw the accident happen, or spotted the accident victim in the gorge below, minutes after the accident occurred. The family notified authorities, giving fairly fuzzy details about the location of the accident, but they were so distraught that they left the scene before any officers were able to respond, Martin said.
This led to some confusion as authorities searched for the victim.
“We got a call of a possible motorcycle accident a mile south of the snowshed, which didn’t sound right because that would have placed the accident in Ironton Park [which is flat],” said Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi. “There was also supposed to be another motorcycle waiting at the scene, but we never saw one.”
Responding officers backtracked down the highway where they discovered skid marks at the scene of the accident at mile marker 89.8.
The place where the victim came to rest “was not visible from the highway unless you got out and were looking,” Martin said.
The Ouray Mountain Rescue Team was dispatched to the scene at 8:30 p.m. By the time they reached the victim, there were no signs of life, said OMRT Captain Tim Pasek. Before they could recover him, they had to deploy a winch to pull the motorcycle off of his body. “We had the body up to the highway at 10:25 p.m.” Pasek said. The body was then transferred to the Ouray County Coroner.
The next morning, the highway was briefly closed so that the motorcycle could be recovered.
The victim’s name has not yet been released, because authorities have not found any next of kin, said Martin. (Protocol demands that next of kin be notified before an accident victim’s name is released.)
“It’s odd, I have never had a case go on this long [without being able to locate next of kin],” Martin said.
The victim was carrying a valid driver’s license with an address in Yuma, Ariz., but when authorities contacted neighbors living in the area, they knew very little about him, Martin said.
Even the make of the motorcycle the victim was driving – a 1999 Suzuki DX 650 – raises questions for Martin. The bike is a sport model not intended for touring. Typically, this kind of a bike would have been trailered for a trip from Arizona to Colorado, Martin said. But no abandoned trailers have been reported.
Nor has anyone reported the victim missing.
“It’s just odd to me,” Martin said.
Ouray County Sheriff Junior Mattivi concurred. “It’s kind of freaky, to tell you the truth,” Mattivi said. “At this point, there is only one person we know of who knows the answers, and he can’t talk to us.”
Authorities are working on a possible hunch that the victim may be from overseas. “The name is Middle Eastern,” Martin said.
Amidst all of the unknowns, one thing is fairly certain. Based on the skid marks left on the highway, the victim “was going too fast,” Martin said. “Most of my motorcycle fatalities involve this kind of a situation. You get into a situation where you point fixate on a sign and then ride right where you look instead of looking out to make it around the bend.”
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